Update Simon Donner has a blog post on this paper, which links back here. Since all comments are closed after 8 days (to battle spam), I’m moving this post to today so that more people have an opportunity to comment.
The title of this paper should have been, “They Won’t Believe Us Because They Believe In God.”
In his upcoming, peer-reviewed Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society paper “Making the climate a part of the human world” University of British Columbia geographer Simon Donner argues that religion is the cause of global warming denial.
Donner says that there is an “overwhelming consensus in the scientific community about the human influence on the climate system.” So his mind boggled that “Doubts about the scientific evidence for anthropogenic climate change persist among the general public.”
He knows how smart he is, and he knows the vast brain power that lies behind the creation of general circulation models. A lot of—but not all—intelligent folks are telling the Great Unwashed the consequences of these models. Yet people don’t listen.
It does not make sense that the rabble should not heed their betters—worse, that these poor folks should directly challenge scientists!
It can only be, he attests, a deep-rooted belief in the “divine control of weather and climate” that causes the ordinary to reject the arguments of the extraordinary.
Donner acknowledges that other factors beside religion may cause the sheep to stray: there are organized efforts (read Big Oil) to promote skepticism, political pressures, and just plain stupidity (couched as “cognitive biases”).
But he ultimately blames those darned “hunter gatherers” and their lingering cultural belief that “the gods manage the weather.” In the battle for hearts and minds, climatologists always lose to the God of Thunder.
His evidence is built with faux-sophisticated, amateurish theology, for example in sentences like, “The weather god, who reigned supreme in early polytheistic belief systems, often emerged as the sole deity in later monotheistic religions; for example, the god ‘Yahweh’ of the Old Testament has been traced to a weather god from a particular region of ancient Palestine .”
In a table, the Book of Job is quoted, where Donner was surely delighted to find the words “clouds” and “lightning bolts.” Thank Yahweh for concordances!—tools which can be used by anybody to mine the depths of the mind of the Lord.
Donner’s suspicious that insurance companies used to blame “Acts of God” for disasters. Donner must therefore be pleased how far we’ve come when any maloccurrence is an act of (a rich) Man: even the 2004 Indonesian tsunami was blamed on human agents (specifically, George Bush).
Strangely, Donner sacrifices his main argument by admitting that in “secular communities, a broad sense that forces beyond humans control the climate may partly explain” denialism (emphasis mine). He also negates his point by allowing that some religious groups “present climate change in apocalyptic frames.”
He is guilty of theory overreach when he ascribes religious motives to non-religious “‘radical’ environmental groups.” And then there’s his other counter-to-his-own-theory argument that “religious groups have expressed concern about the effects of human activity on the climate….based on the Biblical concept of stewardship.” What makes these folks, whose minds are saturated with religious thought yet who do not deny, different than those who do?
Anyway, what’s the Solution? Why, education; what else? Fill the heads of the addled religious with cute, global-warming-is-true stories, because folks learn more “easily or more rapidly from personal or cultural experience than from numerical or statistical evidence, which require greater interpretative skills and effort.”
What Donner wants, though he does not use these words, is to Raise Awareness. There are sillier slogans of the modern world, but not many. Only those approaching zealotry are convinced that persuasion follows trivially from mere exposure to slogans, such as those provided at “interactive dialogues or forums.”
Yet once more our author sabotages himself when he suggests
humility on the part of the scientists and educators. Climate scientists, for whom any inherent doubts about the possible extent of human influence on the climate were overcome by years of training in physics and chemistry of the climate system, need to accept that there are rational cultural, religious and historical reasons that the public may fail to believe that anthropogenic climate change is real, let alone that it warrants a policy response.
Donner’s main problem is to fail to acknowledge the complexity behind “belief” or “denial” in man-made global warming. Admitting that mankind influences climate is far different than agreeing that the effects of a changed climate are known with high certainty, that these effects will be universally deleterious, and that only the solutions offered by the left to “save the planet” are viable.
When a citizen is asked if he “believes” in AGW, it’s safer to say no, since it’s not clear what the question means, and since he won’t be certain the person who’s asking him isn’t using the question as an excuse to latch onto his wallet.
Thanks to Willie Soon for suggesting this topic and for the title.